Technology, finance, and the Internet have united us into an organized self-interest race, but we’re still divided over matters of the heart. Being optimistic is the single biggest obstacle to progress. A majority of Americans are hopelessly optimistic, according to a Harvard survey of workers.
So how can we all believe in better things, so we can aim for better outcomes? Here are some suggestions.
Time for some optimism…
Not just hype
Optimism is deeply ingrained into many people — and it isn’t a weakness, but a strength.
The value is a progressive reaction to adversity, something that happens over and over again in people’s lives. Optimism makes them better people.
So what are the steps to creating optimism? These five suggestions can help, by exploring what makes optimists successful — and pessimists unsuccessful.
1. Use positive frames for adversity
Avoid the dominant negative frame of: “They’re idiots, we’re just as stupid.”
Pessimists are easily defeated because they rely on themselves, criticizing their own thoughts. They feel insecure as they guard their ideas and act against them.
Negative frames tell us that we’re different. They tell us we aren’t as good as the person next to us. That’s their normal state of mind, but it undermines their confidence.
Try this as your starting point for building optimism: “People are different — but we all share similar strengths and weaknesses, and experience setbacks and setbacks alike.”
2. Think optimistically
Limit the self-critical bent of optimism. Feel good about your thinking.
People naturally have special abilities and advantages. Inequality is created by people having advantages, and the job of taking advantage of those privileges is to work hard and get the most benefits for the most money from them.
Uninspiring and unspecific thinking sucks air from optimism. Instead, try this bit of humor: “We know certain steps are smart, but the rest of us never get them right.”
3. Honor sadness
Rejoice in melancholy. All of life’s loss is worth it to achieve a high level of personal achievement.
As Albert Einstein wrote: “The mind is the sum of all the things that excite it, and one can never get rid of enthusiasm, the highest passion.”
Anger is a negative frame, where people pour out their full potentials without reaching the objective of achieving their best. But aggression is a tough ground to take when running for success.
It’s tough to strive for greatness when doing so repels you.
4. Turn a bad situation into something good
So often we fail to see opportunities because we’re too focused on the challenge of overcoming it.
We stay in a bad situation because we “can’t stop thinking about it.” Or, worse, we stop noticing what we could achieve if we just stopped in our tracks to try something new.
Rather than resisting the truth, see the opportunities and meet them. A world of opportunities also provides the chance to meet some new, interesting people.
5. Embrace potential
We talk all the time about the need to start early with your kids, nurture them and work with them long term.
But how about the adults? How often do we accept a journey as a chance to grow, try new things and learn and grow?
Our best response to life is to start going out there!
Check your personality
Self-report personality and affective disorders may influence optimism, but only a minority of Americans report these conditions.
The University of Minnesota’s Susan Woodward found that people with one or more personality disorders have a lower overall level of optimism than the average American. People with cancer-related psychiatric disorders (such as depression) have a significantly lower level of optimism than the average person. And, again, most people in these disorders have much higher aspirations than their average counterparts.
Why should optimism matter for improving people’s lives? Because it gives people the greater power to achieve their goals.
Most people lead full lives, but some work harder, have more opportunities, and get more accomplished. Yet those achievements often come up short. If we want to reach more people with the right attitude, then positivity matters.
This post is co-written by Michael O’Donnell and Melissa M. Weil with support from the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Kronos Institute.